The “red telephone” is the famous hotline that linked the White House via the National Military Command Center with the Kremlin during the Cold War. As a description it might also bring to mind the historical and beloved British phone box. And finally, The Red Telephone is the title of the “summer of love,” 1967 pop song by the rock band Love. None of which is lost on artist Kris Pierce, and related or unrelated, it all offers an interesting lens through which to consider his 2012 piece by the same title.
For where is the power, Pierce connects people alienated from one another due to geographical segregation within Fort Worth by placing three red (non)pay phones in key locations throughout the city in his piece titled The Red Telephone. Modified with a wireless transmitter, the phones become public confessionals that, streamed to a web-based station, disclose dialogue, bridging distance and difference while giving power to voice. The Red Telephone, 2012 is a performative work offering individuals the opportunity to confront insecurities, speak their mind and connect to strangers who listen to their recordings as well as those who participate from disparate locations. Participation with The Red Telephone is abstract and the connections hypothetical but the live and archived recordings are revelatory as they reflect the various communities while highlighting differences and some similarities.
The children’s voices on Pierce’s red telephone at Unity Park Mission on August 29 are playful and combative as some children identify themselves, some play pretend and others argue and swear – while participants at the location outside Fort Worth Contemporary Arts on the night of the exhibition opening are cautious, self conscious, playful, performative and confessional.
Telephone 1, August 27, 2012
“Hi. This is an emergency. Could someone order a pizza? Tell the pizza man I’m gone to the hospital.” “You have to go…[screaming noises]…who cares…shit.” “Helloooooo” “Hello” “Caca-head” “Hello, Buenos”
Telephone 2, August 25, 2012
“Do I have to say something profound? … My parents are highly religious …” “Do I have to do anything?” [child’s voice] “Hi” [adult voice in the background] “Say hello to grandma” “Oh I guess I’m having a public conversation now… [reading the instructions on the phone] that is brilliant…we have to go on that website…” “Oh Neil Armstrong…I want to blame the death of Neil Armstrong on people who don’t believe we landed on the moon.” “why do I believe that you know who I am?” “I am having fun talking to no one…” “Where is Unity Park?” “Is anybody there?”
For a press release and the where is the power website the artist explains The Red Telephone as follows:
A patterned geographical segregation within cities has compounded over the past fifty years, quashing the meaning of what defines a community as a group of interacting people. The project is activated by the interaction of everyday people prompted by a seemingly utilitarian, and somewhat archaic object: the payphone. The project’s components include three payphones each placed in high traffic neighborhoods that remain specifically segregated from each other. Each phone has been modified internally with a wireless transmitter, and the receiver acts as an input device. The intimate nature of a phone and accompanying signage above the receiver will invite public confessional, and will be carried by wireless transmission to an online based component where the signals are combined into a single streaming channel and catalogued for review on the site. Over time the web-based station will begin to reveal a dialogue where similarities, differences, opinions and retort find a place where the three wavelengths meet. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide a forum where anonymous conversation is organized into a singular community’s voice.
Map showing the three locations: